User ID in Google Analytics

User ID in Google AnalyticsFor those marketers, analysts and entrepreneurs that have a user-centric measurement approach and are always seeking to have a holistic view of their user’s purchase journey, they probably know and use User ID feature in Google Analytics. This post is going to be very useful to really know how your visitors engage with your content, specifically, you will learn how you can connect multiple devices, sessions, and engagement data to the same visitor by setting up Google Analytics User-ID feature. What is User-ID? How is it implemented? Which are the limitations and further recommendations? This post covers it all.

So, let’s begin!  

Let’s say, someone on a phone browse your ecommerce website today, make a purchase with his/her laptop a week later, and then use the phone to make another order a month later. That is counted as three unique users with the default Analytics implementation – three unrelated actions on unrelated devices - even if all these actions happen with an account sign-in. However, with User ID or cross device measuring feature, this actions can be understood as three related actions on related devices associated with a unique user.

What is User ID?

User ID is a unique set of alphanumeric characters assigned to a user, that allow us to identify him/her across different devices/browsers and over the course of multiple sessions.

How User ID Works?

According to Justin Cutroni an Analyst Evangelist at Google, most analytics tools assign a random identifier to measure users called Client-ID. On websites the JavaScript code creates the identifier and stores it in a cookie on the browser. On mobile apps the SDK creates the identifier and stores it in a database on the device.

However, the User-ID feature works beyond this default behaviour. So rather than letting the tracking code create the Client-ID, you have to create and use your own identifier. Most business use a CRM system or customer database to assign the User-ID  but you can use any authentication system.

The main objective here is to move the User-ID from your authentication system into your website or app with the help of your development team.

Thus, the User-ID value must originate from your systems, then eventually will appear in the tracking code on your site or in your app, and the User-ID will next be sent to Google Analytics with each data hit, as shown in the image bellow:user-id-2

How can you implement User ID feature ?

As said before, the implementation will depend on your specific infrastructure.

Here, a brief summary of the process.

1.   Turn ON the User ID feature, in the Tracking Info category within a given property, agree with the User-ID privacy policy and click Next Step.user-id-3user-id-4Note: It’s important to read and understand the User-ID policy as you will be aware of every and each important terms, like for example, the fact that you can not use personally identifiable information as the User-ID (this includes an email address, name, etc.)

2.   Set up your User ID in your tracking code. As mentioned above, you must generate the ID from one of your systems, and then you must place it inside the tracking code for websites or the SDK for mobile apps.

You can use the User ID for both websites and mobile apps, but you can't mix web and mobile app data in one reporting view. Web data can only be sent to a web property, and mobile app data can only be sent to an app property.user-id-5Note: Session unification setting is turned ON by default, this means that the hits collected before and during the login in a User-ID session are automatically associated with User-ID as long as these interactions comes from the same session. If you toggle this bottom OFF, hits are going to be collected only during the login in a User-ID session.  

3.   Create a User-ID viewuser-id-6Why is it necessary to create a new view? Well, this special view will only display data from sessions in which a User ID is detected. With this view, you can get a better understanding of how this segment of traffic behaves differently than other traffic - make sure that you include the words “User-ID” somewhere in your reporting view name, so that you can easily identify it later.

Which are the differences between the data displayed in User-ID views and Standard views?

Remember that in a standard view, Google Analytics assigns a Client-ID to each user of your website, the Client-ID represents a unique device/browser, so a unique user can be counted multiple times when he/she switch devices/browsers.

A standard view can provide a better picture of the customer purchase journey than User ID views as through Client ID feature you can track users and their activity from the very first time they visited your website.

Whereas in User-ID views, a User-ID is generally assigned only to logged in users, it represents a unique user where his/her interactions with your site from multiple devices/browsers are tracked and related to the same person.

The User ID feature works well only for logged in users. It’s important to take into account that not all the users login first before they visit your website and frequently they decide to signup and login until they are ready to make a purchase.

So in order to get a complete picture of customer's’ journey, you need to use User-ID view along with the standard views.

So, which are the new reports?

Let’s see the new reports that will be available once the User-ID feature is set in your Google Analytics platform.    

User-ID Coverage Reportuser-id-7Surprisingly you can’t access the User Coverage report through User-ID view. To view this report, you need to access a non-user ID view or standard view within the User-ID enabled property.

You can find it by clicking the Audience section on the left hand side menu, chose the Behavior category and select “User-ID Coverage”.

The report displays data that has a User-ID associated with it versus the data that does not have a User-ID. Thus, you can use this data to get a better understanding of how big your data pool is.

Cross device Reports

Cross device reports are available only in User-ID views. Those are “Device Overlap”, “Device Pathing” and “Device Acquisition” Reports. They basically provide you with a better understanding of how users engage and convert on your website across different devices and over the course of multiple sessions. Those reports are grouped with the Audience > Behavior reports in a webview and with the Behavior > Behavior reports in an app view.

User ID limitations?

According to Google Analytics Support page, the following are some of User-ID limitations:

  1. Opting-out of Analytics: Website users that don’t want their data reported by Analytics can install the Analytics opt-out browser add-on, which instructs Analytics JavaScript to prohibit sending data to Analytics. This can affect data collection of Analytics technologies, including Universal Analytics and the User ID.
  2. User ID data can't be merged The User ID feature can be implemented on any Universal Analytics property, but data collected in one property cannot be shared or mixed with data in another property. Google Analytics 360 users can use Roll-Up Reporting in conjunction with the User ID to aggregate data from multiple properties into a single property.

Who really needs User ID feature?

According to Avinash Kaushik - a Google Analyst Evangelist and expert in Web Analytics- in a newsletter, there is some context you have to take into account before analysing User-ID data. He states that most companies have zero capacity to create content for each individual and personalize the experience by actively learning, so why analyse every individual?

Most companies have finite resources to bring to data analysis, even massive companies have a team of 10. So, can you afford to have this finite resource spend even 15 minutes on analysing individuals from your six million visitors a month?

Instead of analysing every single person in your audience, we can create content for micro-segments (organized by acquisition, behaviour or outcomes). It’s important to know that you can apply segmentation to all User-ID related reports. If you create a user segment, then Google Analytics will show you all the paths generated from users that match your criteria. We can target micro-segments and personalize for micro-segments.

But, here is one exception to this rule. If you are running a tech support website or you provide tech support for your mobile app, it is of value then to pull up the User-ID for an individual human, look at what they did right or wrong and to help them resolve their issue.

Final recommendations.

Implementing User-ID in Google Analytics will provide you a great deal of data to deeply understand how your audience behave, to tune up your marketing efforts and provide a better user experience. However, it seems ingrained in our culture that more data is better than less. It is not. So, you need to be very careful when analysing this amount of data and optimize your time when looking to increase your sales and conversions wisely.

Did you like this post? Feel free to ask or give suggestions in the comment section below. Want to learn more on Google Analytics? Subscribe below.

If you like my articles,